I started working out earlier this year. I’m not particularly out of shape or anything. I’ve been skinny to slim all my life, but a youth spent slaving for my grandfather, cutting down trees, knocking down walls, mowing the lawn, and working on interminable home improvement projects means that I’m fairly fit. I get by. I bike a few miles each day, with a stiff hill between my crib and job. I wouldn’t make the cover of Men’s Health, not topless at least, but my calves are so toned from a couple years of biking around San Francisco that women fall into hysterics, the old-fashioned kind, when I reveal them. It’s pretty awkward, actually. I feel pretty guilty. Anyway.
I know how to exercise, anyone who’s had phys ed knows how to exercise, but I was smart enough to know that I did not know what I needed to do. “I should exercise!” was the beginning and end of my thoughts on the matter. I asked a friend of mine, Larry Leong, for advice. I’ve known Larry for probably ten years now? Maybe a little less, I don’t know. Here’s a video I found of him by googling his name:
Larry’s in shape. He does stuntwork, he shot and produced his own (very funny) martial arts flick, he mastered a one-arm pull-up, and he deadlifts some absurd amount like 2.5 times his weight or something. I hate him. He’s the kind of fit that makes people who are in okay shape but don’t exercise feel guilty. But all that aside, he’s got focus. He sets a reachable goal and he knocks it down before moving onto the next goal. I know this because I’ve talked to this guy on a regular basis for years, so I’ve seen him do exactly that while I sit on my couch and seethe while shoving cinnamon rolls down my gullet. That focus is valuable. It’s a problem-solving tool.
I went to Larry when I decided I wanted to start working out on a regular basis because of that focus, and also because he was around and I knew I could scam free advice off him. I told him what I was thinking about doing (“I dunno, lift weights I guess?”), what I was capable of, and what I owned (“A floor I can do pushups on.”). He gave me a five-day regimen that was composed of around 30-45 minutes of lifting, cardio, and other things. Every day worked a different part of the body, and it was the sort of stuff I could do in my tiny San Francisco apartment with no trouble (barring the jump rope). His combination of educating and guilt tripping me worked, and I picked it up pretty well.
I’ve kept up with it, for the most part. I always cheated on the abs, though. Lunges were incredibly tough, but abs were the one thing where I was like “Ehhhh… I’ll do double next week to make up for it.” I recently asked Larry for some abs-specific stuff to help rectify my abs situation. He told me to do Ab Ripper X, which is part of the P90X series, twice in a row. Now, our friendship is going to end in a murder/suicide.
Larry’s started up this new online effort called Move Damn You!. Instead of showing you how to work out, it’s teaching you why and how you should work out. You always hear that you should “get in shape” or someone’s “gotta get to the gym,” but no one really talks about the benefits or how to do it. Not the step-by-step how to do it–I mean how you should approach it, what mind state you should be in, what you should expect to get out of it, and all of that. “Lose weight!” or “Get muscles!” is… it’s small, yeah? It’s vague. It’s easy to fail with goals like that. Specificity counts for a lot, especially when you’re doing something like working out. You have to have a goal in mind or else you’ll just get tired and quit.
Here’s episode 18, featuring my friend Ching Chow:
Larry’s show approaches working out as a holistic exercise. It’s not just curl twenty times, break, curl eighteen times, break, curl sixteen times, break, curl til failure. You have to work toward a goal and you have to commit yourself. Why are you curling? Why are you doing one hundred push-ups? How is your form? Is it worthwhile? Are you seeing results or do you just use your one hundred push-ups story to impress girls at bars?
I like that he talks to people about how they approach exercise. I especially liked episode 3, featuring Karuna Tanahashi. She spins poi and fire dances, which isn’t something I would normally think about as being exercise, but totally counts. It takes focus, concentration, and physical control. If she wasn’t comfortable with herself and her body, she couldn’t do it. Exercise, being fit, whatever, is about moving and the good feelings that come from moving, directly or indirectly. You might feel better because your beer belly turns into a six pack, or because suddenly your thighs look amazing in that pencil skirt. Or maybe it’s because you work out hard enough that you get that really nice burst of endorphins and feel good for a couple hours. (It’s magical before biking to work, let me tell you that for real. Someone cuts you off in their Benz and you just smile and say “thank you.” You don’t even hope they rear-end a bus or anything.)
The thread that runs through the videos is how important and life-affirming it is to use your body. You’re pretty much stuck with the body you have, so why not really explore and test your limits? Why not push past those limits and risk heinous bodily harm? Being really comfortable in and familiar with your body is a really, really good feeling. It feels like the root of confidence sometimes. If all you have is your body, and you’re proud of it, then you’re gonna be fine, yeah? I dunno, maybe that’s just me.
Here’s a paraphrase/edit of what Larry told me when I asked him what the point of MDY! was:
Well, the purpose of it is to promote exercise, that everyone can/should find a joy in using their bodies, that prolonged inactivity is a waste of your life/a thoroughly irresponsible way of living, and that there’s always something out there for you to excel at, as long as you take the time to look and put the time in. The biggest obstacle anybody has is just getting started in the first place, which is not that hard.
I guess that point about “always something out there” has a lot to do with the interviews because basically everyone I’ve talked to has had some problem they needed to work with or push through, even if it is just getting older, but that persistence is what counts. Strength of character. Moving forward. Fear of failure is bullshit. Failure is a speed bump, not a roadblock.
Actually, I guess the main point is that anybody can improve the quality of their life as long as they’re willing to start. There’s always options, there’s always something you can find that works with your body. You just need to persist and be intelligent enough to question what you learn and understand it. People are too quick to buy into products or routines without putting in the effort to understand WHY things work.
The variety of stuff that he goes over in his videos and that his interviewees discuss was/is really helpful to me. Everybody’s good at something. You just have to find it. I’m going to be taking a dance class at the top of the year. I rarely dance, rarely meaning “hardly ever in public” basically, but I decided that I want to learn how to salsa. I know that I don’t have the footwork to do it right now, but I would like to add that footwork to my repertoire. I think that’ll be a good feeling. So: I’m going to learn how to salsa. Pick a goal and knock it down. Exercise is bigger than bench pressing and sit-ups. (I hate sit-ups.)
Also, I mean, Larry’s got jokes and viking hats along with all of that advice. So there’s that, too. Move Damn You! is great motivation for getting off your butt and into motion. It’s not about turning into a steroid nut or whatever so much as it is all about just being understanding why you should move your body.